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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Scathing Comment on the Guard

Scathing Comment on the Guard

In November, 1866, when Captain E. Tuke was sent down to the Chatham Islands to relieve his brother, he took with him Lieutenant Hamlin, and the guard was strengthened to 30 members. Reporting on the redoubt in May, 1867, Major Edwards (New Zealand Militia) recommended that properly stockaded quarters should be built on a site overlooking the prisoners' whares; that the guard should be further strengthened; and that it should consist solely of Europeans. Only his recommendation with reference to the disbandment of the native section of the guard was carried out.

page 230

When Under-Secretary W. Rolleston (subsequently M.H.R. for Avon and a Cabinet Minister) made an investigation, in January, 1868, the guard comprised (in addition to Captain Thomas) two officers, two non-coms., and 24 men. His report (3 February, 1868) states that the influence which Captain Thomas had obtained over the prisoners had prevented any evil result which might have been entailed “by what, at a cursory view, I cannot but look upon as the unsatisfactory character of the guard.” He went on to say that, if a military guard was still to be kept up, a smaller number of efficient, well-paid men would answer the same purpose as the present guard. “I think,” he added, “that one good officer under Captain Thomas—one who could speak the Maori language—would be sufficient. The number of non-com. officers and men need not be greater than sufficient to keep up a sentry.”

Whilst he was at Waitangi, Mr. Rolleston found that some of the members of the guard contributed freely to the takings of the two public houses. He was approached by an old chief whom the doctor considered in good health, but who did not appear to him to be fit to work. A sergeant admitted to him that he might have occasionally kicked prisoners whom the doctor reckoned were malingering. He also heard complaints against members of the guard in connection with the medical inspections, which had led to keen resentment on the part of the women. Becoming very angry, Mr. Rolleston, it is said, ordered Captain Thomas to put a stop to such “insults and tyranny.”

Captain Gilbert Mair, N.Z.C., who accompanied Mr. Rolleston, informed Cowan in October, 1921, that Captain Thomas wished to be relieved of his position, and that it was proposed that he (Captain Mair) should be his successor. What he saw and what he heard, however, forced him to decline the post. More than half of the 25 men in the guard were, at that time, under arrest for drunkenness, disobedience, or bad conduct towards the internees, “who had become out of hand.”

A reduction in the strength of the guard was brought about in February, 1868, by the enrolment of only the best behaved members as a force of Armed Constabulary. The new guard consisted of one senior sergeant, one corporal and nine constables. Captain E. Tuke took back to Wellington the disbanded section of the guard, and, in addition, several chiefs who had been released as a reward for good conduct. Both the reduction in the strength of the guard and the release of these chiefs were regarded by him as very foolish acts. Captain Thomas had placed each chief in charge of his own section of prisoners, and this wise plan had worked well. Kingita, whom Captain Tuke page 231 describes as “a very bad fellow,” was the only chief of note who was retained as a prisoner.

Towards the end of 1867 the Auckland Provincial Council passed a resolution to the effect that “to secure the pacification of the country, and for the welfare of both races, a general amnesty should be proclaimed with as little delay as possible.” The Government consulted Mr. McLean, who, in turn, sought the viewpoint of Major Biggs. In February, 1868, Premier Stafford informed Governor Bowen that the Ministry could not advise the grant of an indiscriminate amnesty, as such a step would not lead to the tranquillization of the disaffected natives, nor would it be understood by the natives as an act of clemency. Moreover, such an amnesty would include murderers. Eleven of the 172 exiles (whom 82 women and children had been permitted to join) had been released. Mr. Rolleston notified the Auckland Provincial Council (9/4/1868): “That His Excellency, after due consideration, sees no reason to mitigate the sentences of the natives concerned in the late rebellion in Poverty Bay.”

Shortly afterwards, Mr. Ritchie, a J.P. at the Chatham Islands, complained to the Government in these terms: “Since Mr. Rolleston's visit there has been a gradual, but steadily growing, restlessness and an increasing desire among the natives to quit the island and, strangely enough, too, from the same period, there has been a great change for the worse in the character of the Hauhaus.” In reply, Mr. Rolleston told him: “Other reports that have reached the Government from various sources do not confirm the opinion that there has been a change for the worse in the condition of the prisoners.”